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Casino

Casino

By Kyle Barrett • January 25th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
CASINO (MOVIE)
Universal

Original release: November 22nd, 1995
Running time: 178 minutes

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, James Woods, Frank Vincent

Casino

The cinema of Martin Scorsese, particularly his early works, is so inspirational, not just to filmmakers but to audiences as we feel his passion for film in his work. Coming out of the New Hollywood of the ‘70s, Scorsese, along with Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and Paul Schrader, consumed cinema from around the world and refashioned American filmmaking to become more character-driven and personal. These auteurs still have an influence to this day and when the Indiewood generation of the ‘90s began cropping up, such as Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, we saw a reflection of this ‘70s cinema.

The first film I saw of Scorsese’s was Taxi Driver (1976), which I was completely enthralled by. De Niro’s performance affected me so much that it took some time before I could re-examine the film and then I was turned on to Scorsese. After that, I began searching out more of his work. My grandfather gave me a copy of the book Scorsese On Scorsese in which the filmmaker talks about his career up to Kundun (1997). Scorsese’s love of cinema is injected into his films and he isn’t afraid to admit that he borrowed shots from the works of Godard and Truffaut throughout his films, or the colour and lighting schemes from Powell and Pressburger. As his work developed, examining different genres from musical to comedy, Scorsese has always left his auteristic mark.

After Scorsese made another masterpiece, Goodfellas (1990), he refashioned the gangster film. His style was also developing, incorporating long tracking shots, crash zooms and whip-pans that he is now remembered for. The style of Casino is like a more-frenzied version of Goodfellas. The first 17 minutes act as a documentary as we’re shown how the casinos operate and by whom. De Niro plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein who’s been put in charge of a mob-run casino, The Tangiers. Through Ace’s voice-over we’re quickly introduced to his background, his method of detecting cheaters and how, in simple terms, the casino works. We’re also introduced to Ace’s boyhood friend Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, who tells us how the mob work and how they scam the money out of the casinos.

Casino

What really develops throughout the film is the drama that plays out when Ace meets prostitute and hustler Ginger, played by Sharon Stone, as he thinks he can change her, make her a ‘proper’ woman. What evolves is almost like a John Cassavetes drama of domestic troubles. Cassavetes was a friend of Scorsese and was a huge influence on his work, particularly the improvisatory style Cassavetes developed as a director. In Casino, this influence is most evident. The later scenes when Ace and Ginger are married and their relationship starts to degenerate mirror Cassavetes’ masterpiece A Woman Under the Influence (1974).

The unusual thing about the film is the use of comedy. There are times that will make you laugh out-loud. The scene in which an FBI plane has to land on Ace’s lawn because it ran out of fuel from circling his house for too long is hilarious. Another stand-out moment includes Ace losing his temper because he hasn’t got as much blueberries in his muffin as his fellow diner. These moments of comedy manage to lift some of the tension of the drama before we’re plunged back into the thick of it.

As we follow these characters and their lives, we’re constantly questioned as to why we would root or condemn these characters. The performances are brilliant and while many criticised that this was just Scorsese doing Goodfellas in Las Vegas, how can that be a bad thing? Pesci is able to up his ante as a psychotic mob enforcer and Santoro is one of the scariest presences in cinema. Think of him as Tommy DeVito’s cousin, or worse, more volatile brother. Stone gives her best performance Casinoand was award an academy award nomination for her effort. She’s the most complex character in the film where we’re constantly either showing sympathy or condemning her. She works well off of James Woods, who stars as Lester Diamond, her old pimp/con man boyfriend.

Though Woods has little screen time, he makes his character memorable through exaggerated gestures and delivery of dialogue to create a slimy personality. There’s also great support from Kevin Pollack as a corrupt senator and Don Rickles as Ace’s right hand man. Frank Vincent reunites with Scorsese after Goodfellas, where he played the ill-fated made man that insults Pesci and is killed for his trouble. Here Vincent plays Pesci’s right hand man, Frank Marino. Vincent pulls off a great performance and whenever he’s on screen, we feel nervous. He even provides a part of the narration in one scene. De Niro gave what’s probably one of his last solid performances as he underplays Ace. Though he’s a deeply flawed man, we really do sympathise with him, particularly toward the end. De Niro, through his sharp, colourful suits and mild-mannered persona creates a man who gets in too deep.

Casino’s a remarkable film and a landmark in Scorsese’s career. It was the culmination of his new, faster style he’d been experimenting with since After Hours (1985) and his last work with De Niro. The performances are solid as well as the direction. It’s an epic that should be re-evaluated for the masterpiece it is.

Casino

Kyle Barrett

Kyle Barrett

Kyle Barrett is a PhD student at the University of the West of Scotland. His research focuses on digital film-making and current developments within national cinemas. He also writes and directs several short films and is currently working on the web series Ferocious Bloodaxe.

He also lectures and tutors on practical filmmaking classes.

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